Social Media. My generation is addicted to it. I am a little horrified when I begin to try to quantify the time I have channeled into the vortex of browsing. Go on, admit it—we've all been there. Mindlessly flicking through a chain of Facebook and Instagram accounts, be they celebrities or friends of friends: clicking, looking, judging, wanting. It's destructive and distracting. And yet, we keep on aestheticising our lives, offering up them up for public scrutiny, hoping for the empty affirmation of virtual likes.
Artist Amalia Ulman recently conducted an interesting experiment, Excellences & Perfections, which explores the role social media plays in perpetrating feminine beauty ideals and clichés. In what can be deemed a socially brave move, she boycotted her own Instagram and Facebook profiles. Using various props, sets and outfits, she cultivated three different personas over the span of four months. Her calculated stream of photographs, captioned with appropriate hashtags, is disconcertingly familiar. These highly contrived personas frequently appear on reality TV shows, personal fashion blogs and Facebook timelines.
Ulman's alter egos drift from innocent, kitten loving, kawaii blonde; to a troubled, sexy small-town waif, getting a boob job and trying to make it big in New York; to a clean, impeccably dressed, yoga and smoothie loving WASP. The three different characters uncomfortably morph from one into another, making it difficult to discern artifice from reality. The photographs attracted hundreds of likes, and a variety of comments exemplary of online behaviour. Trolls, swooning admirers and confused friends intermingled in a curious dialogue. I spent a good portion of an hour trawling through the posts, duped by the beauty and drama, even though I realised I was witnessing an artwork.
You can view a capture of Excellences & Perfections, recorded using Colloq, a tool developed by Rhizome to archive online projects, here. Online exhibitions are becoming a norm with many important art galleries, and Colloq is a useful tool that will help make sure digital art doesn't just disappear amongst the rest of online ephemera. Amalia Ulman's performative project was presented through an online exhibition platform, First Look, a collaboration between Rhizome and New Museum. I would also encourage you to listen to her talk about the work here.